JACK Straw secured his eighth General Election victory in Blackburn, prompting his Tory rival to concede: “At the end of the day Blackburn has always been a Labour town.”
With 21,759 votes, Mr Straw was comfortably clear of Michael Law-Riding, who finished on 11,895, and Lib Dem Paul English, who polled 6,918.
He was mobbed by Labour supporters after increased his share of the vote and his majority, from 8,009 to 9,856, with a 1.1per cent swing from the Tories.
His main challenger for the Blackburn seat, Mr Law-Riding, said he was ‘exhausted’ as he reflected on his heavy defeat yesterday afternoon.
He said he was proud to have increased the number of Tory votes from 2005, but admitted: “At the end of the day Blackburn has always been a Labour town.”
It was shortly before 4am yesterday when Mr Straw took to the stage at King George’s hall to hail an ‘astonishing vote of confidence'’ in his victory speech.
Mr Straw said: “It has been a privilege to serve the people of Blackburn for the past 31 years and to have been returned for another five years.
“The longer I have served this town, the more I have come to appreciate its people. This is an astonishing vote of confidence.”
Counting at King George’s hall did not begin until around 1.30am as postal votes arrived from across the town.
National television crews had descended on Blackburn, sensing an upset, but the result became apparent as piles of votes were stacked up under Mr Straw’s name, with the election staff eventually running out of space.
Gleeful Labour activists took photographs of the piles on their mobile phone cameras and Mr Law-Riding, who had been bullish beforehand about his chances, sat motionless at the back of the hall as Labour supporters congratulated Mr Straw before counting had even finished.
The scene was a complete contrast to the outer rooms, where Labour supporters watched glumly on television as the national picture unfolded.
When returning officer Graham Burgess finally announced there were huge cheers from Labour ranks, and an emotional Mr Straw had secured his eighth General Election victory.
A shellshocked Mr Law-Riding insisted the experience of standing had been ‘fabulous’, but this result was far worse than his supporters had hoped.
He said: “It’s strange how Blackburn seems to be bucking the national trend, and it’s something we need to understand.
“We will be back.”
He left the building as soon as the speeches had finished.
One of the loudest cheers came when Mr English finished his speech by congratulating Mr Straw: “Blackburn is, and probably always will be Jack’s town”, he said.
Mr Straw first became Blackburn MP way back in 1979 – after Barbara Castle had decided not to stand again – and has held it ever since.
Apart from Mr Straw, Mr Law-Riding and Mr English, all the other candidates lost their deposits, since they secured less than five per cent of the total vote.
Looking exhausted, Mr Straw finally left King George’s Hall, bound for London and political negotiations, at 5am.